If you've ever been at the gym and spied someone in the corner jumping up and down on boxes, hopping around wildly or catching and throwing medicine balls, you've seen plyometric training. You may have been curious but, more than likely, you wondered, "Why would anyone do that to themselves?"
One reason? To burn more calories. Another? To increase power, strength and mobility. Adding even a few minutes of plyometric training to your usual routine can add intensity to your workouts while building more power and strength in the legs, two things that can make your other workouts easier. The key is to ease into it to avoid injury.
The Basics of Plyometric Training
Plyometric training has long been a staple of athletes and exercisers to work on their explosive strength. It may sound strange, but one way to enhance power is to increase the stretch reflex in your legs. This is what happens with repetitive jumping (one of the hallmarks of plyometric training): Each time you land from a jump, your quads stretch and then contract for your next leap. It's that stretch from the first jump that makes your second jump even higher.
With athletes, plyometric training involves intense exercises specifically designed for their particular sports such as jumping off a platform and rebounding off the floor onto a higher platform. Most of us don't need exercises of that level of difficulty, but you can incorporate basic plyometric-type moves into your workout to add more intensity and challenge.
Just a few reasons to try plyometrics:
- It's a way to change your workouts, adding both challenge and intensity
- It enhances neuromuscular proprioception, a fancy way of saying you'll have better joint stability
- It increases power in the lower body. You'll feel this extra power in everything else you do - Cardio workouts, strength training and even daily chores
- It increases strength which, again, pays off in your other workouts and daily life
- It increases mobility in your joints
- It can help you burn more calories during your workout
Precautions to Think About:
- Is advanced, intense and involves high impact exercise. Don't try this type of training until you've been consistently exercising for several months and avoid it completely if you have any chronic joint pain or injuries.
- Requires strength and endurance, so make sure you build both with a complete program of both cardio and strength training before you try it.
- Can cause injury - Elizabeth Quinn, Sports Medicine Guide, cautions in her article, Plyometrics-The Controversy Continues, "Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure's tensile limits...This means injury is caused by excessive force. What could be more forceful than bounding off a 2 to 3 foot box and back up onto another box?" Ease into this type of training, starting with simple exercises (e.g. jumping in place with squat jumps) and master those before moving on to more complex exercises.
- Should be done when you're fresh, not when you're already fatigued, and should be followed by a day of rest to let your body repair and recover.
- Should only be done about once or twice a week. It's easy to injure yourself with this type of training, so be cautious.
Again, being cautious and doing basic exercises at first can help you ease your way into plyometric training. Now, how can you incorporate plyo into your routine? Up next: How to Add Plyometric Exercises to Your Workouts.